A 14-year-old student was in a building known as the pottery shack at the Montessori School of Raleigh’s middle school campus. Also in the room was Nick Smith, a beloved and gregarious math teacher who students nicknamed “Senior.”
“He was very friendly,” the former student testified Thursday. “A little too friendly.”
Early in the 2015-16 school year, the then middle school student noticed that Smith would touch her often. Smith would brush against her arm, leg, or shoulder in passing, while checking her work and in other situations . But after Christmas it got worse, with his hands moving to her butt and her breasts.
In March 2016, Smith asked the student to help him in the pottery shack, a small detached building away from the main building on the campus where students worked on ceramics, she said.
In the shack, Smith locked the door, sat close to the student and ran his hand up her thigh, over her bare skin and then her shorts, she testified.
“I threw it off and said ‘Don’t touch me again,’” she said. “And I ran out of there.”
The Wake County District Attorney’s Office alleges that the girl, now in college, is not just a victim of Smith, but also of Nancy Errichetti, the former headmaster of the Montessori School of Raleigh.
Errichetti failed to adequately investigate previous concerns about Smith’s behavior with female students, said Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita. Errichetti’s inaction left the middle school student vulnerable to Smith in 2016.
Errichetti, whose trial started Wednesday, is charged with aiding and abetting Smith with indecent liberties with a child, a felony. She is also charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor.
Complaints about Nick Smith
Errichetti was aware of complaints about Nick Smith’s behavior with female students in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016, but the concerns fell on deaf ears, Shekita said during opening arguments Wednesday.
About a year after the pottery shack incident, the student shared concerns about Smith with her older sister.
The conversation resulted in series of events that revealed Smith had a sexually abused the older sister while she was a middle school student four years before.
Smith was arrested in 2017 on charges related to the two sisters. In August 2020, he pleaded guilty to 11 felony sex offenses, including statutory rape, sex act with a student and the sexual exploitation of a minor. He is serving an up to 25 year sentence and is expected to testify later in the trial.
‘Benefit of hindsight’
Errichetti’s attorney argued that no one knew the older sister had a sexual contact with Smith or that Smith had touched the younger sister in a sexual way until a year after the younger student had left the school.
“Not their parents who they lived with. Not their teachers that they spent their days with, and certainly not Nancy, the administrator of the school,” Roger Smith Jr. told the jury.
Instead the information came out in 2017 after the girls shared more information about their interactions with Nick Smith.
“It is being presented to you with the benefit of hindsight and with the ability to calmly reflect,” Roger Smith told the jury.
The first three witnesses for the prosecutions are the older sister, a middle sister and the younger sister, who all attended the Montessori School of Raleigh, a small private school.
When the sisters attended mostly at separate times, the school had two campuses. Kindergarten through sixth-grade, along with administrators including Errichetti, were based at the elementary school in Raleigh.
The middle school is located about 20 miles away near Brier Creek in Durham. The middle school has about eight teachers and about 30 students, according to Roger Smith. At the school, students call teachers by their first names. Overnight field trips are scheduled at least twice annually at the beginning and end of school.
The middle school’s tuition is about $25,000 a year.
The middle school student and her teacher
At the end of the 2010-11 school year, the older sister took a school trip and stayed at a farm where they learned about its bees and apple operation, she testified.
The older sister said she and Nick Smith chatted on the historic farmhouse’s porch about their personal lives and families.
“That was the first time I can remember being alone with him,” she said.
Smith and the student continued to talk through social media and texting. The siituation became sexual the next school year in October 2011.
The teacher and student would have sex in the woods near the school, the tool shed, the pottery shack, Smith’s classroom, his car and at the student’s parents’ homes, according to testimony. The acts would take place during school, extra curricular activities and on field trips.
Concerns about Nick Smith
In 2010 and 2011, two parents expressed concerns about Smith. One situation involved a female student, Shekita said. Another involved him being the sole chaperone on an overnight trip that included him spending time in the girls’ room late at night, asking inappropriate questions and playing inappropriate games.
Errichetti, a single mother of three children, was hired as director of development in 2010. She was promoted to head of school in the 2012-13 school year, the year after the older sister left the school.
At the beginning of her tenure, a teacher brought concerns about Smith to Errichetti, who asked for concrete examples.
The concerns included Smith going into girls rooms and waking them up on field trips, along with worries about Smith’s interaction with the older sister. Her parents were never contacted.
Smith was put on a behavior plan and wasn’t allowed to be alone with students, a rule he violated within weeks, Shekita said.
The older sister said she told no one about their sexual activity because she didn’t want Smith to lose his job and be arrested, she said.
“The world that Nick had constructed for me, everyone was a source of fear,” she said.
The contact slowed after she moved on to high school, she said.
At the start of the 2015-16 school year, the younger sister said she started noticing how often Smith would touch her. Touches that lingered a little too long, she said.
After the Christmas break, the touching became more sexual, she said.
What was really strange, she said, was that Smith seemed to know intimate details about her family, her sister and their homes.
She thought Smith was following her, she testified.
On a stop at grocery story during a field trip, Smith touched her bottom and moved his hands up to her breasts, she testified.
The student was terrified and confused, she said, as Smith acted as if he was doing nothing wrong. He was a popular teacher, who had a way of turning things against her, she said.
“He was loved by so many people,” she said.
The tension and fear made the student physically sick, she said.
In the weeks that followed, the student shared some of her concerns about Smith with a third sister, who told her parents. The older sister was off at college.
Parents meet with Errichetti
The parents of the sisters met with Errichetti in May 2016 to express concern about Smith’s touching their youngest daughter.
“Despite having this information, and with the wealth of institutional knowledge, the defendant lets Nick Smith board a plane to Europe as a chaperone on a European trip,” Shekita said.
Errichetti sought specifics about the incidents, which included Smith trying to friend the student on Snapchat, which is against school policy. The parents also shared social media messages between the youngest and middle sister about Nick Smith’s inappropriate and persistent touches of the younger sister.
The younger sister, however, didn’t share information at the time about the incident in the pottery shack or the groping in the grocery store.
The student said she was told that she could return to school, but that Smith would be there. The student finished the final days of that school year at home.
Errichetti spoke with Nick Smith in early June 2016. Smith denied the Snapchat request, but admitted being alone with the younger student twice. He was put on another behavior plan, Shekita said.
Nightmares about Smith
The girls’ accusations against Smith were revealed after the younger sister talked to the older sister for the first time about about Smith, describing a recurring nightmare of him raping her.
The older sister shared related information with her therapist, who reported Smith to police, which state law requires. Policeinterviewed the sisters and gathered evidence from their phones.
In 2018, the family sued the school, Errichetti and Smith after a police investigation found institutional and systemic problems, the younger sister said. The litigation is paused during the criminal trial.
“That system was not designed to keep children safe but to protect interests that have nothing to do with education,” she said. “I felt as if I was failed, and I was not protected by people and a system that should have. “
Testimony is scheduled to continue at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
This story was originally published July 29, 2022 8:15 AM.
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